by Starsky Hutch 76
Van-Zee sat with his niece’s husband Ak-Var in the den of his home to discuss the recent outbreak of violence. “I’m sure you’ve seen the holo-news.”
“About Fal-Ko?” Ak-Var said. “Who hasn’t heard it? If doctors are unable to reconstruct his face exactly, there will be a lot of disappointed young girls out there.”
“I’m sure they will. Even so, if he recovers, he’ll never be the same. No one can go through what he went through and not be affected.”
“No kidding,” Ak-Var said. “And his bodyguards. No one deserves to be beaten that bad. Police said their bodies were unrecognizable.”
“Witnesses say he went into his dressing room with a young woman. There’s only one I know capable of inflicting that kind of damage — Faora Hu-Ul.”
“But she was in the Phantom Zone,” Ak-Var said.
“The Phantom Zone was taken over by Mxyzptlk and the prisoners held captive, according to Superman,” Van-Zee said. “But Zo-Mar and Nam-Ek have both resurfaced, so we knew there was the possibility of other escaped Zoners being here. Nam-Ek confirmed it when questioned.”
“It’s strange to think of Nam-Ek being thought of as a hero,” said Ak-Var, who had himself served a sentence in the Phantom Zone before genuinely reforming and eventually becoming a hero. As a young man on Krypton, he had stolen a national relic called the Sun-Stone as part of a prank, but he was nevertheless sentenced to thirty years in the Phantom Zone for his crime. Superman himself released him, and he went to live in Kandor, where he met Van-Zee and his niece, Thara Gem-Zee. (*) Although it was difficult at first to adjust to living in Kandorian society after so many years, his friendship with Van-Zee and his eventual marriage to Thara helped him succeed. He had become such a trusted friend to Van-Zee, in fact, that the two later took on the roles of the masked crime-fighters known as Nightwing and Flamebird, which were previously used by Superman and Jimmy Olsen. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man from the Phantom Zone,” Action Comics #336 (April, 1966), “Death Is a Computer,” Superman Family #183 (May-June, 1977), and “Superman in Kandor,” Superman #158 (January, 1963).]
“Yes,” Van-Zee said. “The public seems to love the Rondor. They’re eager to embrace any new hero that pops up. Just look at how popular Valor and this new Ultra Girl and Green Lantern have become in just a short while. (*) He’d already served his original sentence in the Phantom Zone, so they’ve pardoned him for any actions taken during his escapes in light of his recent heroic actions. He’s now a ward of the state, and the Council is looking into his condition. The scientists have already found a way to stifle the stench. At least that might make his transformation a little more liveable.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See World of New Krypton: Supergirl and Valor: Homecoming.]
“Does Nam-Ek know where the other Zoners are?” Ak-Var asked.
“No. They were all scattered when they arrived on Rokyn. But some of them must surely have made contact with one another by now,” Van-Zee said. “Plotting and planning, no doubt.”
“Then it’s up to Nightwing and Flamebird to stop them,” Ak-Var said.
“You read my mind,” Van-Zee said, smiling. “But first things first: Find Faora Hu-Ul before she kills again, though part of me thinks she deserves to be left to Zod’s tender mercies. I’m sure her actions were not a part of Zod’s plans.”
Nightwing and Flamebird stood grimly as they surveyed the carnage of the large room. Broken bodies lay from one end to the other in various impossible positions. Blood spattered the walls. In the corner, one young rookie police officer was losing the contents of that day’s lunch.
The gym had belonged to Bru-Sri, Rokyn’s best known master of the ancient arts of klurkor. Like many, he was trying to take advantage of the new prosperity developing, now that Kandor was out of the bottle and expanding rapidly. He had opened his gym to the masses, commercializing the art, which infuriated many purists.
“I haven’t seen anything like this since before Kandor was shrunk,” a middle-aged detective told Nightwing.
“So you have seen something like this before, then?” Nightwing said.
“There’s one M.O. it matches perfectly with,” the detective said. “I’m sure you know which one I’m speaking of.”
“Faora Hu-Ul,” Nightwing growled. “She’s got to be stopped.”
“What motive would Faoru Hu-Ul have to kill Bru-Sri and his students?” Flamebird said, looking around the room as he walked up to them. “Not all of them were even men!”
“Her victims are usually men she is attracted to,” Nightwing said. “The best known case being the men found at her murder ranch, which got her sentenced to the Phantom Zone. This is different. Bru-Sri wasn’t exactly a pin-up boy like Fal-Ko.”
“Then why strike here?” the detective asked.
“Faora was a master of klurkor, too,” Nightwing said. “Bru-Sri angered a lot of masters when he began marketing his knowledge of the martial art to the public. As crazy as it sounds, I believe he offended her sense of propriety by opening his chain of martial arts studios.
General Zod sat in the dining room of his remote ranch, eating his breakfast and catching up on the latest current events. “Damn her to the hottest pits of Hell!” General Zod said, hurling his glass across the room as he read the headlines of the latest news-vid. “What game is she playing at?!”
“I always said Faora was unhinged,” Jax-Ur said. “Such a person is not to be trusted.”
“Yes, I always knew she was crazy,” Zod said, seething, “even dangerous. But it was always to our advantage before.”
“Those were common brawls with the son of Jor-El,” Jax-Ur said.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Zod said, shaking his head with dismay. “What we are doing now requires a great deal more subtlety than what she is used to showing. ”
“From the looks of things, she’s not used to showing any subtlety at all,” Jax-Ur said.
“Well, that is going to have to change,” Zod growled. “We’ll have to bring her in before the authorities do.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Jax-Ur said.
Jhun-Kee wished he’d never discovered the powder the stranger called Kokayne. At first it had been a wonderful feeling. He felt bright, charismatic, and invincible whenever he used it. It was a fantastic new pastime. Any social event was made the better for having it.
Now, though, it was as if he couldn’t live without it. More and more of his credits had gone to buy more of it until he ran out. He couldn’t make enough to support his habit, either, because his work at the Ministry of Expansion had begun to suffer, and they’d transferred him to a lesser department where the pay wasn’t as great. He’d sold most of his possessions to keep up his habit.
Jax-Ur told him he’d be cut off if he couldn’t pay. Jhun-Kee was in a panic. After much begging, Jax-Ur told him he would be put on a dole in exchange for selling to his friends and colleagues in the Ministry.
The Wingmobile hovered over the streets of New Kandor as Nightwing and Flamebird monitored the police bandwidths for any signs of Faora Hu-Ul. There weren’t any reports of new serial killings. There was, however, a flood of reports of new crime popping up in New Kandor and the other fledgling cities of Rokyn.
“What’s going on here?!” Flamebird exclaimed as the umpteenth report of a mugging came in over the radio.
“I don’t know,” Nightwing said. “But it’s too strange to be a series of coincidences.”
Flamebird brought up one crime report after another on the Wingmobile’s computer. “Most of the people arrested have no previous criminal history!” he said in disbelief. “In fact, a lot of them are well respected members of the community!”
“Crime doesn’t just suddenly kick into overdrive,” Nightwing said. “Someone’s behind this.”
Flamebird’s attention was suddenly diverted to the passenger-side window. “Nightwing, look!” he exclaimed. He pointed toward a bridge in the distance where a young man was standing on the wrong side of the railing.
“He looks like a jumper,” Nightwing said.
“We’ll never make it in time,” Flamebird grimaced.
“We have to try,” Nightwing said.
The Wingmobile took to the air, zooming toward the spot where the young man stood. As it accelerated, the young man let go of the railing and plummeted toward the ground, narrowly missing their tractor beam.
“We’re too late!” Flamebird cried in horror as the youth struck the ground.
“Rao,” Nightwing gasped under his breath.
The Wingmobile lowered to the ground, and the two men stepped out. Nightwing moved to the boy’s side. “Don’t try to move, son.”
A horrible wracking cough issued forth from the young man, and blood spattered both his face and Nightwing’s. “He’s a goner,” Flamebird said.
“Perhaps I can help,” a deep voice said. A large, thick-hided, gray-skinned man stepped out of the shadows. A single horn protruded from his forehead. “I am Nam-Ek.”
“The Rondor,” Flamebird gasped.
“That is what the news-vids are calling me, yes,” Nam-Ek said.
“Help him, then, but hurry,” Nightwing said anxiously. “He only has a few seconds left.”
The Rondor sat by the boy’s side and laid his hands on him. A glow issued from beneath his palms and moved into the boy. The boy began to shake with great wracking coughs once more, but this time there was no blood. His body finally became still, and he was at peace.
“Thank Rao,” Nightwing said with relief.
“What the heck was he doing up there?” Flamebird said.
“Many have behaved strangely of late,” the Rondor said. “I have done much healing.”
“Any ideas on what’s making people act like this?” Nightwing asked.
“I…” the Rondor grew silent.
“Are you all right?” Nightwing asked.
“The boy was within death’s grip. Pulling him from it took much out of me,” Nam-Ek said.
“Come with us, then, friend. We’ll give you a ride back to your home. You’ve done more than anyone could ask for tonight.” Nightwing helped the Rondor as Flamebird lifted the young man and carried him back. The four of them moved toward the Wingmobile.
“The toxicology report of the blood sample we took from the youth showed traces of a hallucinogenic in his blood stream,” Nightwing soon told Flamebird and the Rondor.
“A hallucinogenic?” Flamebird said incredulously. “How is that possible? Illicit drugs haven’t been seen on Krypton in centuries.”
“Be that as it may, it was there,” Nightwing said. “How it came to be here is the question. This particular drug originates on Earth.”
“Earth?!” Flamebird exclaimed. “What’s it doing here in that kid’s system?”
“Well, that’s the million-cred question, isn’t it?” Nightwing said.